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Japan Cruise

While not our first sea day, today is the first of many until we reach Vancouver. It's also the first real chance I've had to sit down and collect my thoughts. Yesterday, we were in Russia, our last port. The town of Petropavlovsk is definitely not St. Petersburg but it was a required stop for the ship to refuel for the long trip home.

Alpha & Nancy didn't want to deal with the hassles of getting ashore (Russian officials going through and approving everyone's passports) - but the process was actually better this time as you waited on the ship for your group to be cleared versus having to wait in line in the customs area. In any case Chris & I had a lot of fun. The town itself was nothing special), but we enjoyed kicking back and having several beers at several cafes. We went to a hot dog stand but the lady didn't speak any English, so a couple of young locals translated for us. Before that, we went to a bank to get some rubles and the lady there was your typical stone faced resident, but Chris being Chris managed to get her to crack a smile. On the way back to the tender a couple locals on the beach flagged us down and insisted we join them in a drink. So we shared the local brew and ate some dried fish thingy they said was from the Bay in front of us.

Being so far north though, the weather was cold. While in line to get on the tender to take us into town, one of the Celebrity staff looked at what we were wearing and suggested we get something warmer. When we said we were fine they said 'oh, you must be Canadian'. Rumor had it we had passed an iceberg, but sadly we missed it. But there was still a bunch of snow on the surrounding hills and even within the own itself. It was a surreal experience sitting on an outdoor patio, with our breath in the air, being in Russia, and drinking cold beer.

On one of our first nights we got invited to have dinner with the Captain and his wife. I had assumed it was because we were in the Penthouse suite, but apparently it's not a given you'll be asked. I tried to play the whole I didn't have anything formal to wear card, but our butler helpfully informed me they'd hook me up with a complementary tuxedo. So I had no choice but to accept. I'm glad I did as we quite enjoyed it. Along with the Captain and his wife we were seated with four other couples. We were so far out of our comfort zone as everyone else was older and either retired or quite wealthy - with most spending several months at a time cruising. But Christina, the wife, was hilarious and made us feel at ease. We also became friends with Gary and Jake, a gay couple whom we sat next to. I was a little standoffish at first, but quickly warmed up to them. So much so that we've spent several nights partying and having dinner with them. The Captain was a man of few words, but when we told him we had spotted a whale the other day, in a thick Greek accent he was like 'Whale? Noooooo. Tuna!'. That's been an ongoing source of amusement ever since.

The two Japanese stops, Sapporo and Hakodate, were fun although I enjoyed Hakodate more. While Sapporo is a large city of two million and had much more to do and see, it was a 2.5hr bus ride to get there and you only had about 3 hours to spend before having to go back. Normally I would have been in hell, but the Japanese lady tour guide made the trip bearable. It was fun listening to her inform us about various topics. At the other port Chris and I wanted to beat the ship tours so once we got off the shuttle bus we hopped in a Taxi and bee lined it to the cable car station which took us to the top of what was a volcano. At the top they had shops and a restaurant, but the view was the main attraction. From there we just walked around town, had some yummy Ramen, and caught the shuttle back to the ship. In both cases the local school children came out and put on a performance for us as we sailed away. It was easily the coolest goodbyes we had ever seen. They maybe get one or two ships a year visiting, so for them it was a big deal and we got a kick out of how much fun they were having.

Tokyo was great. I wasn't sure how I'd handle being in such a big city, but it actually wasn't that bad. It never felt overly crowded. Our hotel was awesome. We had a corner suite 30 something floors up and it felt like we could see forever. The staff were also super friendly and helpful and would do the little Japanese head bow when talking. By the end of our stay I found myself automatically doing the same. Probably the coolest thing in our room was the toilet. Seriously. It would automatically open when you approached, had a heated seat, water sprays, would auto flush, deodorize, and close when you were done. Getting around was pretty easy and it didn't take us long to master the subway. We even took our first trip during the morning rush hour. Sadly we didn't get to experience the guys pushing people in so the doors would close, but it was still pretty cramped. At night we quiet often took taxis as the traffic was better then. We got to see a lot of the major areas. Our hotel was in Chiyoda, but we also visited Ginza, Shibuya, Shinjinku, and Asakusa. We also ate where the locals ate and despite having to resort to pointing to menu pictures when ordering (and not really being sure what it was we were getting) everything was tasty. In fact the one time we had Western food (a disappointing trip to the Hard Rock) I felt gross afterwards. In terms of sight seeing we went up the Tokyo tower which is modeled after he Eiffel Tower, we visited the Meiji shrine, hung out at the famous Shibuya crossing, wandered the stores in Ginza, did the tourist trap at Asakusa, and went to the cat cafe and robot show in Shinjinku. The robot show was bizarre. It was basically burlesque meets Transformers. I wasn't entirely sure what I was witnessing, but I know I had a big grin on my face the whole time. Getting to the ship wasn't that bad. We hopped on the JR line at Tokyo station. There was the usual language barrier, but when we got our tickets they told us it was on platform 8. Thankfully I decided to double check with a conductor guy while we waited as he pointed us to a different platform. I'm not sure where we would have ended up otherwise...

We loved Japan. I'm so glad we decided on this trip which at first glance seemed like a pretty obscure itinerary. All four of us have said we want to come back some day. Alpha and Nancy are already making plans for their return visit.

This is our first trip on Celebrity and its obvious why their cruises cost more. What you're paying extra for is the service. The ship itself, the Millennium, isn't overly special. Really the only standout is our cabin which is the Penthouse suite. In terms of square footage (including the balcony) it's bigger than what our old house was. Besides the extra space, we also get all of the perks that come with it. There's been several times when we've been in line getting off the ship, or when we had to clear customs that someone from the ship would pull us aside and escort us to the front. We've also had access to a couple of exclusive lounges where we'd get free snacks and drinks. Our butler and concierge have been terrific. They've basically provided and done anything we've asked for. When Chris mentioned we should have brought our iPod as we have a music docking station in our cabin, Maritsa, our concierge simply gave us hers to use. We're actually probably the most easy going suite guests they've had. We've heard some of the requests she's had to deal with and Chris and I are like are you serious? But probably the best is all the people we've met on the cruise and all the extra special things we got to do. Touring the bridge and having dinner with the captain and his wife - twice no less.

This has truly been a vacation to remember.


Pictures can be found here.